While much weight is put on your written treatment to describe your overall approach, style, and structure, the video material you submit are equally as important. Work-in-progress DVDs help show the quality of your work, demonstrate your skills at storytelling, introduce us to your key characters, and give a sense of the tone and visual style of your piece. Below are some things to keep in mind when submitting your video materials to ITVS.
Previously Completed Work
To apply to any ITVS funding initiative, you must submit a previously completed work on which you are credited as a director/co-director or producer/co-producer. The work does not need to have been broadcast — it only needs to be completed to be eligible. In deciding what to submit for your sample work, please consider the following:
• The project you send should demonstrate your best quality work.
• Ideally, it will have some relevance to the project you are proposing, which you should discuss in your sample work description. This might include a similar shooting style, approach to storytelling, intimate access to characters, etc.
• If there are aspects of your previous work that are not relevant, you should discuss that too — for example, if the piece you are proposing marks a departure from your previous style of filmmaking.
To apply to Open Call, LINCS, and International Call, you must submit a work-in-progress DVD of at least five minutes in length. The DDF initiative does not require a work-in-progress video. Be sure to follow any specific instructions listed under each initiative.
Besides the five-minute minimum for Open Call, LINCS, and International Call, there is no prescribed length for work-in-progress tapes. ITVS requests that reviewers look at 10 minutes of each tape (and more if there is a full rough cut). However, it is important to note that reviewers can be “turned off” by what they see in the first few minutes, setting their mind against something even before the 10 minutes are up. Bearing in mind that the process is highly competitive, it is critical to capture the viewer’s attention right from the beginning. Ideally, your work-in-progress will draw the viewer in, making them want to watch more, not less.
Generally, works-in-progress fall under one of the following categories:
Trailer: a short promotional encapsulation of the film, that is intended to introduce the story, characters and visual style, and to pique the viewer’s interest. A good trailer should leave the viewer wanting to know what happens next, while succinctly posing the central theme, question or issue(s) that the film will address. Ideally, the trailer should be as close in style to your vision for the final film. For example, if you don’t intend to use a narrator, it is not advisable to use a narrator in your trailer.
Selects: a collection of scenes or edited sequences that demonstrate some of the key content of your film. Selects are less polished than a trailer, but should ideally still demonstrate attention to quality and storytelling. Often applicants will use title cards to introduce scenes or characters, to help the viewer understand what he or she is watching.
Assembly: a collection of the key scenes that will comprise the entire film, strung together loosely in the order that the film will follow. The assembly is often much longer than the proposed film and may be lacking in music, transitions and other stylistic features that will be added later. Because of its length and rough quality, the assembly may be a challenge for reviewers to review and assess. Generally speaking, it isn’t advisable to submit assembly cuts.
Rough cut: a close approximation of the content of your final film, although some scenes may be missing and music and stylistic features may be absent or rough. When submitting a full rough cut to ITVS, keep in mind that while we request that reviewers watch as much of the tape as they can (and at minimum that they watch some part of the beginning, middle and end), if they do not feel the production values or quality of storytelling are competitive, they may watch less.
What are ITVS reviewers looking for when reviewing DVDs?
When reviewing your DVDs, ITVS reviewers are looking for insight into things that don’t always translate in the written treatment. Some of the things they are looking for include:
Production quality: This might include lighting, sound quality, camera movement and editing transitions. If the quality of your materials looks amateurish — for example, if the sound hasn’t been captured well or interviews are harshly lit — it doesn’t bode well for the final product. No matter how interesting your story is, keep in mind that you are working in the visual medium of television and need to demonstrate that you have an excellent ability to communicate through this medium. Otherwise, why not write a book? Sometimes filmmakers submit DVDs with caveats like, “I shot this myself and I’m not a shooter — the final product will look much better.” This is not advisable. Works-in-progress are not research material — they should contain “A” material that you intend to include in the final program. Reviewers are not necessarily inclined to be generous or take a leap of faith on a project with low production values. Certain explanations are helpful — for example, if you have a low-resolution output, or if you haven’t mixed the audio it’s important to let reviewers know. You might do this with some onscreen text at the beginning, or on an accompanying sheet of paper.
Storytelling: Even a single scene should exhibit storytelling and needs to make sense. A disjointed, confusing collection of random shots is simply not engaging, and neither is a long unedited talking head interview. You may want to set up what viewers are going to see with some onscreen text. Then use the medium to take the viewer on a journey or open a window onto a world. The story needs to advance, to go somewhere. Good works-in-progress often leave us wanting to know what happens next.
Emotional impact: Reviewers are people. Think of them as a focus group of your viewing audience. What do you want them to feel? This gets back to why you want to make this film in the first place. Whether you want to make people laugh, cry, become irate, seek out information, or be moved by sheer artistic beauty — your work-in-progress shows your ability to do that. The strongest examples have an emotional impact — they move people, cause reactions, pique curiosity, and spark conversations.